Can We Stop to Catch Our Breaths?

Posted on Mon 05 July 2021 in Nigeria

Photo from unsplash
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

By Aniemeke Isioma Prisca

Twentieth of October 2020
You carry army go kill many youth for Lekki
Na so water o, water runaway my eye
- 20 10 20, Burna Boy

Two weeks before the Lekki massacre, I remember urging my friends to tell me the things they love about Nigeria; I needed their answers for the Independence Day episode of my podcast. 90% of them had nothing to say. I remember thinking they were being ridiculous. I remember trying to highlight all of Nigeria's glories. "Look on the bright side! We have art, music, food, books and our funny selves."

I guess it's okay to say I was an ignorant patriot, blind to what everyone else was seeing- a crumbling nation that wasn't just falling, but was taking its citizens down with it. Soon after, my eyes fell open. My hopes and faith in the country died. They went away with the souls that were massacred on the evening of October 20.

The #EndSARS period was a special period. Before then, I had never witnessed Nigerians being collectively energetic about anything that concerns the nation. We've been energetic about Big Brother Naija. We've been energetic about Davido vs Wizkid. We've been energetic about the Champions League and we've even been energetic about Donald Trump.

This time, we came out as one. Christians. Muslims. Men. Ladies. Old. Young. Hausa. Igbo. Yoruba. Celeb. It was beautiful. And we were doing just fine, fighting for our rights. We were trying to let them know that they were "messing with the wrong generation". We were trying to let them know that we had a voice and we wanted them to hear that voice. That period was indeed special. I even learnt a new word- palliative.

You know we come from a place
Where people smile but it's fake
How could they smile?
If you look around they are surrounded by pain
- Monsters You Made, Burna Boy

There is this thing about Nigerians, we are always moving. The government just banned Twitter but we move! They want fresh graduates to go to war but we make jokes about it and we do what? We move! Wahala for who no be UAR citizen o.

This is not me trying to proffer a solution or me criticizing anyone. This is me wondering: when does it end? When do we stop to catch our breaths? When do we stop moving? Maybe I should rephrase that... How can we stop moving? Can we do anything else but move?

There's a kind of hopelessness that comes with living in Nigeria, being a Nigerian. It's the kind where you are trapped, you are aware that you are trapped, you know how to escape, you try to escape but, you can't.

Remember the aftermath of the president's speech after the Lekki massacre? We began to make jokes and fantastical plans to japa. Some were flying to Canada on eagles and others were flying on broomsticks.

Can we do anything else but move? Yes, we can. We did so last October and what was the result? Sometimes, I ask myself if we really gained anything from the #EndSARS protest. We lost so much, yes. But did we gain even a tiny little bit?

I was amongst the many people who were anxious about the June 12 protest. I begged friends not to go. I did not step out of the gate throughout that day. I prayed countless times for the safety of the protesters. I was even scared to go on social media for fear of seeing that protesters had been harassed, arrested or killed. There was an overwhelming guilt in my heart that I couldn't name. Was it cowardice or was it precaution? Whichever it was, I did not try to tame it.

We can actually do something other than moving. But to do so is to question the authority. And, to question the authority is to be a threat. You know they know, right? The government knows how powerful we can be when we come together. They know that the present day Nigerian youths are different from who our fathers were. What other explanation can be given for their sweaty palms and rumbling stomachs when we decided to protest? Why did they sprinkle policemen and soldiers at every corner? Why did they shut us up even before we opened our mouths to speak?

They find us threatening, so they silence us. And how do we react to this silencing? We move.

You know the thing about always moving? It's taking all of the nonsense the government is throwing at us and telling them that they can keep throwing them at us. It's like carrying ten bags of cement on your head, smiling and saying you can still carry more.

Different type of evil available
And any one of them can killi you
At anytime anything can happen o
- Bank On It, Burna Boy

You're a Nigerian and you're not paranoid? A big congratulations to you. I recently watched a movie titled, A Million Ways to Die in the West. Although the movie was set in an entirely different place and time, the title and a part of the storyline reflects in the Nigeria of today, which ironically, happens to be in the West of Africa.

If you're not being killed by unknown gunmen, the Uber driver might be the last face you see before he slits a knife through your throat. Your supposed employer who you bought new clothes and revamped your CV to go meet for an interview could just be a ritualist and rapist. That chilled bottle of Coca-Cola your friend gave you might have just ruined your chances of ever getting pregnant. The policeman who is supposed to be your friend can shoot you dead because you refuse to unlock your iPhone. Tomorrow, your name can be trending with a #Find or #Justicefor preceding it. Now, you can even end up in prison for having Twitter installed on your phone. There are indeed a million ways to die over here.

I see a guy on dreads and I become scared for and of him. I'm scared that he may just be a regular hard-working youth who is in danger of falling into the hands of the police. I'm scared of him because he may just be the bad guy his appearance has stereotyped him to be.

Speaking of our police, gone are the days when boys were their only victims. Girls can now fall into their trap anytime, anywhere. A few weeks ago, two female university students were arrested on their way to a night party. What exactly were they arrested for?... Nothing.

No one is safe here. There are a million ways to die. If one doesn't kill you, another might. Gbo gbo wa la ma je breakfast. Irregardless of your tribe, sex, class, age or political view, you're a prospective victim in this country.

Ye ye oh
Ye ye oh
Ye ye ye ye ye ye ye oh
- Ye, Burna Boy

The world is evolving and is getting more industrialized with each passing day. Youths are being taught to be innovative. They are being celebrated for their creativity. They are being encouraged to do better. Nigeria left.

Our parents tell us of the times when with one naira, you could prepare a tantalizing pot of soup and still have change. I wonder what stories we'll tell our children. We will probably tell them of the times when a sachet of water was five naira and when fifty naira was an acceptable amount for "lunch money".

When we tell our children these stories, will we tell them (the stories) to show how bad things once were or how good things once were? Will the future be better or would we refer to this time as "the good old days"?

This is full of rhetorics just like the mind of a Nigerian is filled with questions that will never get answered. We're worried about tomorrow's breakfast. We're worried about traffic and bad roads. We're worried about how the price of everything keeps escalating and the quality keeps depreciating. We're worried that with each passing day, our dreams become more unrealistic.

If we're not trying to make things better, they will keep getting worse. However, if by trying to make things get better, we're getting killed, what will better matter if we're all dead?

When dey say make we jump, we go jump
Some people go somersault
Dem get headache, we go drink Panadol
Meanwhile president go dey chop

Because na we be our own problem
Na who go come reason well?
- Collateral Damage, Burna Boy

To the mothers who sold their votes for a few cups of rice. To the men and women who were sent to disrupt the protests for a thousand naira. To the people who are paid to support politicians on social media and praise criminals in the comment sections. Well done.

Will the country ever grow when we are joining hands with the government to bring it down? Will the country grow if there are more people like me, afraid to fight for fear of death? Will it grow when there are hungry people willing to sell their liberty for a price that cannot provide a day's meal?

Or should we talk about misplaced priorities? How the president is more concerned about cows than he is about us? How youths are getting arrested for indecent dressing when there are criminals roaming around freely? I guess this is talk for another day. Another day that we are not guaranteed of but another day still.

Them are try everything
Them are try take me life
But I won't let them get the best of me
- Destiny, Burna Boy

The Nigerian dream is to travel abroad and support Nigeria from there. This is my dream and this is your dream. Do we want to make the country better? Yes. Do we want to get killed while trying to make the country better? You might say yes but the question is, can dying for the country make it better? Is there even a thing as dying for a country such as this?

To die while fighting for your rights in this country is just dying. You're not dying for the country, you're just dying. The people who were killed at the Lekki toll gate did not die for Nigeria. Rather, they died.

Your death will not change anything. Don't worry, you will get your share of attention. We will perform the normal ritual for you. A few days will be dedicated to mourning you and pretending like we can get justice for you. We will make your hashtag trend, even internationally. We sure do know how to do that. Your name will appear on people's T-shirts, people who didn't know you existed until you died. People will use the opportunity to blow and make a name for themselves. We will do all of these. After a few days, another victim will outshine you and people will forget the pronunciation of your name.

Nigeria. There's no justice in here, there's no closure, there's no sense. Isn't this place a spectacle? With too many main characters and even more silent members of the chorus? In case you're wondering, we are members of the chorus. You and I. Isn't this place such an eyesore? Reminding us each new day that there's something worse than what we experienced the day before? Isn't this place one big joke? Filled with citizens who are quick to laugh and create memes to mask their frustration?

There's a kind of hopelessness that comes with living in Nigeria, being a Nigerian. It's the kind where you are trapped, you are aware that you are trapped, you know how to escape, you try to escape but, you can't.

Maybe we should really come out to fight this time and we die, we die. Maybe we should keep dreaming and wishing for the day we can finally leave. Maybe we should keep moving and not allow them to get the best of us. I am tired of writing about Nigeria and even more, I am tired of writing about how tired I am of Nigeria. But, we move.

Aniemeke Isioma Prisca is a student of English at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. She is a campus journalists, a writer and the owner/host of the Naija-ish podcast. Many of Prisca's stories and articles have been published on various websites. Connect with her on LinkedIn and on Twitter.